Mind Tricks to Get Through Workouts

Your brain is a child.

Your brain is a child.

Some days you don’t feel like being at the gym, and you need to decide if the reason is mental or physical. This ability comes through trial and error, and experience. The body’s signals are important, and if you stubbornly ignore them an hit the gym, you set yourself up for injury or sickness. Either way, it’s a setback for Future You, and it sucks.

So, here’s a few reasons you might be feeling lackluster at the gym:
– Not enough carbs/calories
– Poor sleep the night before
– You’ve been going too hard and need a rest day
– Coming down with something
– You’re feeling lazy and you need to suck it up

The first reasons are important physical barriers; the last one is mental, and the worst one of all. It’s been said, “the mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master,” and this is especially obvious when exercising. In the gym, on the track or wherever you are, the mind should be the servant of your body. For this to work, your body must be the leader, and you might have to trick your brain to get it done. This is totally normal. Even regular exercisers have bad brain days. Tricking the brain is not always easy, but it’s possible and necessary.

For instance, you might let your body lead by going through the motions. Put on your workout clothes, drive like a zombie, and tell your brain, “See? We’re already dressed and at the gym. There’s no point in going home now!” Then, you might say, “We’re only going to do this for 15 minutes, and see how it feels.” Then warm up. Start some lifts, and check in with your body. (Not your brain.) The initial warm-up sets might feel too heavy. Tell your brain, “It’s ok. The first and last sets are always the heaviest, and this is going to get easier in a minute. You watch.”

Here’s a few more tricky tricks I use to throw my lazy-ass brain off course:

I learned this trick at roller derby practice. In order to make the team, you must do 27 laps in 5 minutes or less, which is difficult and a stipulation that stymies a lot of skaters because it’s essentially 5 minutes of sprinting. At some point, your legs start complaining, and your brain is convinced your legs should probably give up. So, I started focusing on something else, usually my shoulders. I told my brain, “You know what? We should make sure the shoulders are relaxed and that we’re not hyperventilating.” That tactic had the dual effect of helping me focus on my breathing and diverting attention away from my screaming legs. So, during hard workouts, try to focus your brain on a part of your body that’s innocently cruising along. Accuse it of being the real problem, and let your brain deal with that for a little while.

Divide and conquer
When it comes to the reps on the WODs, I mentally divide them in half.
So, for example, if it’s 20 kettlebell swings, I can tell the brain, “It’s only 10 swings right now…” and get going. Then, immediately start the second half, but “NOW, silly brain, we’re over halfway there! Almost done!”

Count backwards:
I often see personal trainers using this trick. Start with the highest number and count down, that way, as you get more tired, your brain hears a lower number and knows the finish is near. You’re way less likely to give up with that tactic. It seems small, but it helps. Also, personal trainers always seem to have sets of 8 reps. Have you noticed that? That’s probably why I like this Sweet 16 WOD so much.

Lie about it:
Sometimes, if I want to do three rounds of core exercises, I tell my brain the first one is the hardest, and we’ll probably stop after two rounds. Then I say, “Well, we’ve done two rounds, we might as well do a third while we’re here… Getting a DNF would be embarrassing….” And use your momentum to power through.

What it boils down to is: Your brain is a child. Readers who are parents probably recognize these tactics. You have to stay positive, but coddle your brain and soothe it. Don’t get mad and yell things like to “WE’LL NEVER LOSE WEIGHT/GAIN MUSCLE IF YOU DON’T STFU!” even though you might want to. It’s more like, nodding solemnly and cooing, “I understand you don’t like this, but everything is fine.. Don’t worry. We’ll probably stop soon…. ” and then keep going until you’re done!

Always let your body call the shots because it’s doing the work. Your body is the real hero here, and it’s stronger and more capable than your brain even knows.


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